Friday 8 January 2016

Basilicata, Southern Italy: A Place of Mystery, Magic and Secrets

Looking across Italy's Wild West, the rugged mountains of Basilicata with deep, austere ravines that are covered in a carpet of broom and violets in spring
Basilicata is one of the most dramatic yet least known regions of Southern Italy. From tiny, hilltop villages where you can listen to poetry while looking at the moon, to Francis Ford Coppola's beautiful hotel that draws actors and directors from around the world along with the Lucania Film Festival, this place is full of magic and secrets. Story & photographs by Mariangela Curci 

Glowing lamps at twilight on the terrace at Pisticci 
LIKE a great impressionist painting, Basilicata touches you with the mutable colours and subtle palette of its mountainous landscape, full of sinuous poetry and stark beauty. It is one of the smallest regions in the country ~ called the secret garden of Italy. Basilicata is a land rich in surprises from the coast to the wild mountains and from wide open parks to historical palaces.

The little villages up in the hills are intact and untouched as if time has stayed still, populated by simple, welcoming people who make any stay here quite unforgettable. But Lucania, the old name of the region, is not as isolated as it seems. Many artists, film directors, poets and composers have stayed here and been inspired, offering homage to this ruggedly beautiful region.

The ancient city of Matera looks to the future
Indeed in Basilicata, we find not only the third oldest city in the world with 10,000 years of history but also a place filled with innovative ideas. Matera, the ancient city of caves, will host the European Capital of Culture 2019, and today is known as an avant-guard incubator of artistic projects.

Late afternoon summer espresso in Bernalda 
Francis Ford Coppola, one of world's great film makers, is not only originally from Basilicata but is very proud of it. In Bernalda, the original town where his grand-father Agostino came from, Coppola has created a little paradise at the Palazzo Margherita, a hotel that hosts actors and directors who want to discover a real and authentic Italy.

Rivello lost in a deep and mysterious landscape

Lucania is an unusual place, where you can experience and live a unique way of life, far from everyday cares, and feel like you are in a film. You arrive in Basilicata on the old railway line with a train with just two carriages that leaves platform Nine and Three-Quarters like the express for Hogwarts. As the train trundles through the mountains, you look out and become immersed in the silence of a deep and mysterious country.

After the summer siesta in Pisticci 
Quotidian stress doesn't exist here, Lucania offers a spiritual aspect that welcomes visitors and soothes all of the senses. Your encounters with the places, tastes and people of the region always seem to be casual and authentic, things happen spontaneously. Here, it is enough to simply relax and let yourself be transported by the atmosphere of another, rather magical world.
In Satirano, during one day of the year at Carnival time, the men of this village dress themselves as trees and the surrounding forest appears to walk. In Lucania, you meet fortune tellers, musicians, and magicians. During the magic summer of Albano, you can still see traps set out to capture witches and symbolic fires lit to burn them, traditions that go back to medieval times.

The sun-baked main piazza of Salandra
Even more mysterious is Craco, a city of ghosts, that is completely uninhabited and abandoned between deep valleys and an arid earth. Every spring the calanchi or clay gullies around Matera blossom with broom flowers and wild violets, blooming across the sun-baked earth. This extraordinary landscape, unique in Italy, is where the population density is so low that you can roam for hours without meeting a soul.

Or you can leave the wilderness and go to the festival of Aliano, where you are able to listen to poetry while you stare at the moon or relax during the projection of a film on the terrace at Pisticci, the white city, where actors and directors gather during the Lucania Film Festival.

Poetry and films under the stars at Pisticci 
In all of these small towns, there is a cordiality on the smiling and curious faces of the people sitting on the benches in the main piazzas. It's impossible to not want to take at least one photograph of their sympathetic faces and bring them with you as memories of your voyage.
Pictured below is the Cinecitta Bar that overlooks the main square of Bernalda, designed by Sofia Coppola as a homely place for a good espresso and a pizza, while you watch the townspeople go by. It is at the front of the Coppola's 19th Century Palazzo Margherita which they renovated and restored with French architect Jaques Grange as a luxurious boutique hotel with a film screening room, beautiful frescoed salons and lush, leafy gardens and fountains. 
Francis Ford Coppola's Cinecitta Bar in Bernalda

Every village in Basilicata is different and enriched by it's own particular quirks. People tell different stories of their experiences, recounting the peculiarities of each place in their own way. Basilicata is like a small, secret world lost in time but looking out toward the future.

Translated from the Italian by Jeanne-Marie Cilento

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